Efforts are underway to change the lawn mowing law in Somersworth, New Hampshire
Only after Somersworth resident Jackie Pierce refused to mow her lawn and received a notice from the city did Orzechowski learn of the law prohibiting residents from planting their lawns longer than 10 inches.
Orzechowski said he is now working with City Councilor Matt Gerding to change the law. He wants to broaden the definition of what the city will allow, be less strict about noxious weeds, and steer residents toward native species that can benefit wildlife more.
“The biodiversity crisis and climate change go hand in hand,” he said. “We are losing species all the time and are in danger of losing more.”
Orzechowski said he noticed the decline even in Somersworth. This year, he said, he saw only a handful of monarch butterflies.
Butterflies are pollinators that can take advantage of the additional habitat created when lawns are allowed to grow and there are more flowering plants. But Somersworth imposes its own rules about the length of the lawn and how often residents must mow it.
In August, Pierce received notice from the city that she had let her lawn grow beyond the acceptable length and that she would have to cut it by September 8. Pierce declined because she wanted to preserve the bee habitat she had begun to notice. Wild flowers in the garden.
On Monday, she welcomed Orzechowski’s efforts to change the law and offered to spread the word about his initiatives. “I’m not entirely sure how much our community knows about this,” she said in a text message.
She said on Facebook that she mowed her garden last week because all the yellow flowers that the bees were feeding on had planted and died. Far from resigned, her tone in the post was cheerful. “Guess whose lawn looks 100 times greener and greener than their neighbors who mow their lawn all the time?” I wrote.
Orzechowski helped Somersworth join the National Wildlife Federation’s Community Wildlife Habitat Program after finding that about 10 percent of New Hampshire is covered in turfgrass, a desert habitat. In a densely populated city like Somersworth, project supporters believe the impact will be huge.
A city ordinance requiring residents to mow lawns can be a barrier, but Orzechowski has worked with the council to change city ordinances for an environmental benefit in the past, such as expanding the buffer zone around wetlands and vernal pools. In 2018, he helped create a tree ordinance to certify the city as part of Tree City USA. The Tree Council was created during this process, which is an advisory committee when there is a major project that impacts trees.
He said the city was amenable to these changes.
He drafted the language and presented it to a consultant, who sponsored it and added it to the council’s agenda. It is expected that the process of changing this decree will be the same. Working with Councilor Gerding, he does not expect to propose changes to the law until after the November election.
Gerding could not be reached for comment on this story.
Another city council member, Martin Pepin, expressed some reservations about changing the city code.
“To be completely honest with you, I have mixed feelings about this,” he said. “What I can say is that a lot of people end up being proud of their lawns and their status, and if you have a next-door neighbor who has a lawn that’s about two feet tall, it reduces the value of their property.”
Pippin said he has not yet decided what the correct answer to this issue is, because he is sympathetic to wildlife, having grown up on a dairy farm.
“In the downtown area, if someone wants to house bees, there are a whole host of things that affect them, between the people next door, how they take care of their property, if they get stung by bees,” he said. “There are a whole host of questions that need to be answered.”
Somersworth Mayor Dana Hilliard shared some of Pippin’s concerns regarding property values, but said the city is always open to reevaluating its ordinances.
“Sometimes, best practices from decades or more ago no longer equal best practices,” he said.
He praised Orzechowski as a good community leader, but did not say whether he would support changing the turf code. But it seems unlikely Hilliard will take over as mayor when the proposed ordinance goes before the council because he will not run for re-election. He recently faced controversy and was disciplined for his alleged abusive behavior as a senior school administrator.
For his part, Orzechowski was able to create pollinator-friendly habitat in his garden, without reprimand from the city.
His advice: “I think the best approach is to try to make it seem palatable to your neighbors,” he said. His garden features a label from the National Wildlife Federation stating that it is Certified Wildlife Habitat.
“The idea is not to make it a complete wilderness around your house,” he said. “This is not necessary.”
Amanda Gokee can be reached at email@example.com. follow her @Amanda_jokey.